A Beginner's Guide To Meditation


How to do the Mindfulness of Breathing guided meditation in all 4 stages

Here’s a little experiment for you to try. Be brutally honest and if need be take brief notes during the day. Work out where your daily thoughts are predominantly focused – are they in the past, present or future? A lot of us will be surprised to know that we are either moving away from the past or moving towards an optimistic yet slightly uncertain future. Very few are in the present or fully aware of how to achieve this. The funny thing is we have always been and will always be in the present – we can only ever be in the present – the past has gone and the future is always out of reach. Like the classic pub bar inscription in a lovely little hotel in the Lake District – “free drinks tomorrow”. So now we are aware of the problem, it is not our body that scurries between realms in time as only Dr. Who can do that; it is our mind.

I am not saying we cannot remember the past as some of these memories are what created the person we now are. I am also not saying avoid the future as it is essential we have a roadmap and a clear idea of where we are going. The important thing to remember is that NOW is what is and will always be important. Are the actions of now congruent with those visions of the future? Have you learnt from the past as reflected by things you now do or no longer do in the present?

Getting the head right and firmly grounded in the present is not impossible but does take some work. Probably the best method for this is meditation: the ancient art of ceasing to act like a headless chicken for a while. Here I will briefly discuss one form of basic meditation that has worked for me and many others. I was lucky enough to live quite close to the London Buddhist Centre and would recommend anyone check them out for more information. The mindfulness of breathing is a meditation based on internally counting the breath cycle whilst letting the mind relax. The counting can be viewed as markers that regulate the activity of the mind during the meditation. In a comfortable position, take a slow breath in, then exhale and count “1” to yourself after each breath cycle. Repeat this with the aim of reaching 10 and then returning to 1 for a brief 10 minute session. Your ability or inability to get to 10 without interruption or losing count will indicate your mental activity level and show you just how beneficial mental “time out” can be (or is that “time in?” – you decide).

Surprisingly, many people report hardly ever getting to 10 for the first few sessions so do not let this put you off – simply view it as a journey of learning and self-discovery. The second stage of the mindfulness of breathing is to anticipate and count just before you inhale. This requires a slight change in focus and awareness. Ensure the breathing is normal and if the mind wanders always come back to the counting. Eventually the counting is dropped so you can experience a deeper level of relaxation.

In a comfortable position, allow yourself to relax and let the mind begin to drift away. After a few minutes, begin to count your breath cycle to yourself as you exhale. For example, breathe in, breathe out and count “1” in your head. The aim of the first stage is to work from 1 to 10 for about 10 minutes and if you lose count or find the mind wandering simply return to the count and begin again at 1. Possible hindrances in this stage are frustration at losing count, just accept you are losing count and return to 1. It’s not a test, or a challenge, just an indication that you are on the right track.

Stage 2 we now reverse the counting cycle and count just before the inhalation. So in a way you anticipate the breath which requires a slight shift in focus and awareness. Count “1”, breathe in, breathe out and then continue with the aim of working in cycles of 10. The breath/count cycle will be very similar but the mental focus has slightly changed. Possible hindrances are exactly the same and usually revolve around either losing count or worrying far too much about the timing of the breath and the count – “should there be a gap?”, “how long is the pause?”, “do I count and breath at the same time?” forget all of this and come right back to the basics: count and breath.

Stage 3 is best approached when you are able to work with the counting for continuous cycles of 10 without interruption or distraction from excessive mental noise or activity. The count is simply a minor distraction to keep you on the right path. However, when you learn to ride the stabilisers come off and we now drop the count completely. It is recommended not to jump straight in at this stage as the benefits of using and then dropping the counting will result in a deeper level of meditation and better results for you long term. In this stage the count is removed and you simply focus on the breath entering and leaving the body as a continuous cycle. Possible hindrances here are usually having no focus and either falling asleep or letting the mind take over with tomorrow's shopping list or constant reminders that you didn’t lock the kitchen window properly. For this reason I have personally found it beneficial to view the breath as a sort of mist or fog. This gives you a visual representation of the breath and aids as a slight distraction to prevent the mind from wandering. It’s quite similar to the counting but very subtle in comparison and with less mental activity required.

Stage 4 here we focus on the exact point where the breath enters and leaves the body. We are looking for the tiny sensations on the base of the nostrils or the upper lip and acknowledging these with the breath cycle. The only real hindrance here is actively seeking the sensation rather than letting it make itself aware to you. If it is not there, be patient and relax. There is no rush and after all, the aim is relaxation without expectation. Allow your experience to unfold and accept what you learn about yourself.

If you would like to expand your mindfulness journey then please click on the Free Stuff tab and we have a short video course in awareness for you